LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE


A Broad Overview




A colleague recently asked me to come to a class in his course on Language, and talk with a small group of students about Linguistics....... he said briefly. I replied that I would be glad to come, but as I thought it over later, that word "briefly" kept sticking in my mind. I sat down with pencil and paper this morning and tried to put together some account of the many paths which one could take to reach the central body of the discipline we call "Linguistics".

It often happens that when you ask a simple question, you find yourself getting a complex answer, and that is very much in the nature of things. I could point to a shelf of books on various aspects of language, and even a handful of books which survey the "field" in detail. But there is a practical use to the simple answer, even if it is much condensed, and that is the purpose of this intentionally "brief" paper.

If there is any one characteristic which distinguishes humankind most critically, it is the use of language. As habitual users of Language in every aspect of our lives, we are all curious about this tool which we use so conveniently and so automatically. There are tricks of expressions which every language surprises us with, there are games and puns and crossword puzzles galore, and we all have a genuine curiosity about where our Language came from and where it stands in a world which has some six thousand actual "Families", containing tens of thousands of individual languages.

This is an embarrassment of riches, more than a team of researchers can expect to survey in depth and report back to our conference table, with any hope of enlightening perceptions. At the other end of the situation, we have a right to be curious about our own native tongue, and this is the normal starting point for someone who wants to know a little more. But there is no thread which will take you back from your native English to the remote point from which language started to evolve. And there is little understanding of when or how or even why language evolved in the first place.

So let me try to outline in the simplest terms what Linguistics as "general language study" has been about in the past, not as a survey of all the work which has accrued, but as a set of signposts which point us to areas of serious activity and concern about Language




It was in ancient India, long before Western scholars became aware of Sanskrit as a possible parent or early relative of the older level of European tongue, that Linguistics first appeared as an exact, descriptive science. Panini, the master grammarian of the Sanskrit language, was probably working in the second century B.C., although the exact dates are unsure. Linguistic material was considered of great important since it bore directly on the reading and interpretation of the ancient Vedic and Mantric texts. For a comprehensive understanding of the details of the Sanskrit language, Panini's descriptive grammar probably has no equal in any culture at any period.

Panini's grammar is formatted into hundreds of rules which describe exactly specific features of the language. These are grouped together by sounds and sound-groups, rather than parts of speech in the Western manner. To this day students doing the ancient language, the Indian equivalent of Latin in our schools, learn vast memory-banks of rules first, and then as they progress reading texts, the teacher demonstrates how the learned rules explain the linguistic phenomena. This may seem the hard way to study grammar, but the act of memorizing was considered a valid part of the educational scheme, and like the Asian study of "characters" probably had important side effects in developing a capacious memory. In the last half of the 20th century "memorizing" has fallen into disrepute in America, with the sad result that modern students have very small supplies of fact and exact data in their possession. If Panini stands at one pole in the learning process, we seem to have aligned ourselves with the opposite pole.

When the early Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet (alpha = Hebr. aleph etc.) they provided themselves with a remarkably efficient linguistic toolbox which permitted quick access to writing as part of the ordinary citizen's skills. As in India, when a body of important writing became canonized (in this case the largely secular or semi-religious literature of Greece), it became clear that books, libraries and scholars would become the base for a discipline which they called "Philologia", the love of learning. By the time of Aristotle the word was used in this sense and was a cornerstone of the Alexandrian scholarship of the 2 c. B.C. for the scholars who were the curators of the venerable Greek literature. They did perform some basic linguistic services, both in elucidation of rare and dialectic words, and in their assay of truth in the manuscript tradition. School systems quickly devised the doctrine of the functions of linguistic materials, which have survived virtually intact as our "parts of speech". The use of "paradeigmata" or examples of word-inflection was a part of every classroom study, and again this persisted well into the 20th century, more an anachronism than a necessary part of the teaching equipment.

Just as the Renaissance confirmed Greco-Roman tastes in poetry, rhetoric and architecture, it established ancient Grammar, especially that which the Roman school-grammarians had developed by the 4th c. A.D., as an inviolate system of logical expression. In the writing of Sanchez's book "Minerva, sive de causis Linguae Latinae... 1587" the author (a.k.a Sanctius!) posited Latin as the linguistic equivalent to Logic, an un-logical view which persisted generally, and especially among Classicists, into the 20th century. With the appearance of a new approach to Linguistics in the early 20th c. this view was gradually disbanded in the schools, but not without a fight.

When the writer and politician De Busbecq (died l592), noted in his travels in the Black Sea area, that the natives of a certain area spoke a rare dialect of a Germanic type which had words apparently cognate with developed German, for example "fimf" = NHG "fu'nf", he chanced upon a kind of data which would later lead to the development of Historical Linguistics, which must be based on collected data of this sort. Without masses of observed linguistic information, theory of language is impossible, which is why I mention this insignificant collection of Crimea-Gothic words at this point. Had this traveler inquired further he could have given us an invaluable selection of what was probably eighth century Gothic, halfway between the Gothic Bible of the 4 th c. A.D. and the developed Germanic tongues. As it is we have a handful of isolated words.

But it was Sir William Jones (l746-92), a man of vast language- learning talent and master of some thirteen languages including Arabic, basic Chinese and Sanskrit, who first propounded the notion of cognate families of languages. Having become proficient in Sanskrit during the time of his judgeship of the supreme court of judicature at Calcutta, he saw that the ancient Indian language was clearly related to the Greek and Latin he knew from his student days. His knowledge of German confirmed his view, which became the basis for the Indo-European theory, a hypothesis which stated that Sanskrit was either parent or older cousin of all the older languages of Europe. In his day Jones was known as a leading "Orientalist", but his fame rests now largely upon his anticipation of the detailed and scientific work of the l9 th century German linguists.

Toward the end of the 18th century many new views about the most basic things were coming to be aired. If Priestley and Cavendish showed that there were hidden secrets which analysis made clear, documentable by detailed and careful observations of the most precise kind, this message was not lost on the early years of the oncoming century. Atomic theory with Dalton became more of a pressing reality than Lucretius' 1 c B.C. Books I-II could ever be, Volta's early work with a chemical electric cell opened the doors for complex analysis of mineral compounds via electric dissolution. This opened new worlds of orderly systems in the world of Chemistry, to be finally consolidated by Mendeljeef's Period Tables half a century later. And when Darwin and Russell at mid-century pointed to biological evolution as continued process and virtual Law, the world showed itself clearly interested in orderly and documented statements of developmental behavior.

This series of lessons was not lost on those involved with the languages. The Grimm brothers developed a whole orderly science of Germanic Linguistics, capping their research with study of developmental traits in Folklore with the famous Germanic folk stories. Bopp produced the first Sanskrit dictionary in the West, and Indic studies were undertaken not only as fascinating in their own right, but as part of a newly assumed "Western Tradition". If Grimm and Bopp were the first generation of these Indo-Europeanist Linguists, then Brugman after l875 codified and consolidated this new study into a solid academically viable "field", which by then was a German proprietary item called "Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft". It is hard not to imagine the furor of activity and attention paid to painstaking detail with which the German scholars attacked, documented and codified this new field of language research, and soon all of Europe as well as America were working on IE linguistic research or teaching it in the colleges.This new field of Indo-European linguistics is now listed as a major section of Historical Linguistics, and it is a prime example of the Comparative Method used in a singularly rich exploratory field. The inner relationships of the major branches of this linguistic tree are too complex to list briefly, but this link to Indo-European Background will give a quick overview of the area.

This time was also ripe for probing into the past. Every country explored its folklore, its writings in the archaic period, and its "tradition'. England was fascinated in the 18th century with Elizabethan Reliques of Ancient Poetry edited by Bishop Percy, which paved the way with works by. Blackwell, Wood and soon F A Wolf in Germany on the originality of Homer's writings. Soon the linguistic philologists had picked up a vein of interest in unraveling ancient documents into early, late and interpolated passages, culminating in the relatively sophisticated linguistic analysis methods of the Homeric Problem. This was after all not really literary analysis, but first and last a study of words as words, which may be one of the reasons that the Homeric Problem today is neglected as a curious phase of an older level of scholarship.

During this period, which we now see as the heyday of IE Historical Linguistics, much information was sketched out for a vast Indo European migration from somewhere between Black and Caspian Seas, if not North India. Whether it was IE or Idg. in name, the doctrine was scientific in attitude, academic in spirit, imaginative and semi-historical in scope, and immensely popular. By early 20th c. it was clear that so much of the basic work had already been finalized, that Indo-Europeanists seemed to despair of going much further in their research. There was always detail to be filled in, but the outlines of the basic field were firmly delineated already. During the second half of the 20th century archaeologists working closely with anthroplogists have done a great deal of work on ancient sites in Eastern Europe especially, many dating back into the 7th millennium BC. Much information potentially pertinent to the fixing of an Indo European Homesite or Urheimat has been done, but the correlation between sites and speakers has been inconclusive. For further information on this fascinating area, check this link for Indo European home-site

In quite a different spirit and a very different climate, the Missionaries had been active worldwide throughout the 19th century, following European Empire Builders to every corner of the world and spreading the Christian Doctrine. If first stage on dealing with a new land was to try to get people to wear underwear, the next was to teach them Bible English and soon after to translate the Bible into their tongue. Translations were quickly made and the various Bible Societies got them printed up and distributed worldwide.

But there was a problem. The zealous translators were following the patterns of Latin and their European languages, which they felt went well with the biblical texts as god-given doctrine. Lacking any real understand of the structure or the languages they were translating into, they produced garbled texts, ridiculous analyses of local grammars, and left no serious marks of advancement in the science of Linguistics.

It was in quite a different spirit that Edward Sapir at the turn of the 20th century approached the American Native languages, which were being corrupted and dying out at an astonishing rate. A skilled phoneticist, Sapir went everywhere with his pencil and notebook, tabulating not only sounds which the Western ear didn't hear, but also grammatical concepts which the West never imagined. Born in Pomerania, Sapir knew something about learning a new speech code, and devoted himself to the anthropology and linguistics of the Americans with resounding results. By the time he died in l939 a new school of Linguistics was in the making, one which drew the blueprint for structure from the studied language itself. He not only saved priceless Nootka texts from being lost, but established in his still readable book of l921 "Language, an Introduction...." a new front for language study.

Bloomfield followed and consolidated Sapir's work, but it was WW II which proclaimed a whole new range of "Structuralists", and for eminently practical reasons. In l940 many people understood that before the war was over we would have to deal with dozens, perhaps hundreds of languages for which we had no prior information. This linguistic preparation for war had to be done in a hurry, the needs were pressing, and centers were set up in dozens of American colleges for the study and teaching of languages, both the common ones and those which were then rare or exotic. When the war was over, the Structuralists survived into an academic welter of new views, questionable hypothesis, avenues which might lead to ultimate answers or perhaps nowhere at all. In l950 Structuralism was "in", and a newly trained Ph.D. might have only a rudimentary idea about 19 th century Historical Linguistics.

It was in this mid-century period that we learned to disregard the proper rules of Grammar, as displayed in Goold Brown's 1102 page "Grammar of English Grammars", 6th ed, New York l862, and following the advice of the modern Cornell Linguist, we learned to "leave your language alone". Use makes the rule, in fact there is nothing else which establishes norms and usages than constant use and public acceptance. It turns out the l8th c. English "an't" ("is not") was formerly socially acceptable, but in time as a nasal-twainged "ain't" it became a mark of the uneducated and the bane of schoolmarms in this country for generations. But it finally disappeared on its own and is now rare or used in college circles only for a dialect humorous emphasis. On the other hand "it don't" is here to stay as a mark of a stubborn social class-awareness that ain't goin' to cater to nobody. Words fade in and out of use continually, a process which is dependent on use, not rule or reason.

Sometimes there are more complicated lines of reasoning. A while back we could comfortably use the word "he" to mean any person, a member of the human race without relation to gender. But when the women's movement got its speed up, an immediate target was the ubiquitous male "he". So writers who wanted their books published soon got to use the rather clumsy phrase "he or she", or even "he/he" ; or possibly if one were arch about it, "(s)he" or better "s(h)e". This obviously could not last, it was too heavy-handed when repeated, and a way was found out at last.

The trick was to forget about the Rule of Agreement by Number, which keeps singular things singular and matches plurals together. So we began to see "ungrammatical" arrangements like this:
    "In potential civil right situations, a person should be careful to use proper wording, and be very careful about their respect for the law."

This is clearly ungrammatical by the old standards, but it does avoid the verbiage of "his or her respect for the law". I still avoid this plural pronoun use myself, as many of my generation will unconsciously do, but I have to admit that it is neater and tighter than the "he or she" phrase. It may be bad grammar, but it is growing in use, and I believe this adjustment to sense is going to be here to stay. In any case, Use makes the Rules, so we will give it some time and see what a writer in the popular press will come up with in their future work (!).

Even the names of disciplines were changing. The old German linguistic term Vergleichende..... became transmuted by its easier French version "comparee'" into and English "Comparative", but nobody was ready to call it Linguistics yet. So English and American colleges taught what they called Comparative Philology, which was exactly Indo-European historical linguistics with a more conventional title. In l950 Harvard changed this to Comparative Linguistics, at the demand of the eminent historical scholar Joshua Whatmough, and as other kinds of linguistic research were added, the program became finally the work of the Department of Linguistics. This has evened everywhere, while conservative Classicists appropriated the term "Philology" to mean the scholarship of the Classics in the Alexandrian tradition, with no special emphasis on the development of the new Linguistics. Since Classical languages are still taught in a thoroughly traditional mode, with little influence from linguistic research in cognitive studies of the languages, this title is perhaps unfortunate, but ultimately quite suitable.

But it is the last half of the 20th century that Linguistics and linguistic science have exfoliated into dozens new areas, some of them completely removed from the old philological language- studies of the previous century. There is such diversity of interests and techniques that some have questioned whether there remains a central field of Linguistics, or whether we should speak of Linguistics hyphenated with another field, such as anthropology, computer science, practical language instruction or second-language teaching, etc. Let me mention a few of these new directions and areas of activity:

Since W.W.II the missionaries have gone with new enthusiasm into new developing countries, in the face of problems stemming from a new set of national consciousnesses. But the new missionaries know the value of being well trained in language, and the people trained at many university sites here are fluent, facile and well based in theoretical linguistics. New bible translations have replace the clumsy reworkings of yore, and where there is success, as in South Korea which is one third Christianized by now, the results are clear.

If Harvard's Prof. Zipf was largely disregarded as a radical linguistic eccentric in the l930's, by l960 his work was incorporated in the index of new mathematical work, along with the cybernetics of Norbert Wiener, in a project fostered by Whatmough and the Linguistics Department at Harvard. As the computer revolution proceeded, it became clear that nobody could plan a computer- based world without deep use of both mathematics and linguistics, although a great deal of the ancillary writing on computer subjects seems to be written in a jargon dialect which might well defy linguistic analysis. That may be part of the cost of living on new frontiers of knowledge.

The great Atlas of American English pioneered and edited by Hans Kurath opened the way for expanded consciousness of local speech sub-patterning, exploring area by area the difference which underlie the "standardized" appearance of American English. Not only is the Atlas fascinating browsing, for the nuances of speech patterns which it reveals, it is also the vehicle by which splits and dividing lines in societies come into recognition, along with the isogloss lines which have been traced across every continent from the beginning of time. Research continues with the definition and elaboration of knowledge about localisms and dialect differentiation, since the Atlas tapped only the top of the mine.

Can the historical record of language tell us something about the society which produced it, about the range of historical experience? In the mid-19th century various European linguists proposed the notion that the linguistic record of a group of languages should show the traits of historical development as the languages spread both socially and geographically. It remains curious that the Indo European language show no single word for the cat (Skt. marjarah, Gr. ailuros?, Lat. feles, Gmc. catt-) while dog is abundantly represented (Skt. svan, Gr, kuon, Lat. canis, Goth. hunds, all connected inexorably be fixed sound-laws). Horse is oddly represented, for example Skt. asvas beside Latin equus, but the Gr. hippos has some phonological clouding and may be a different word, while the word for horse in the Germanic north is entirely different. It is hard to connect words in a web of history without supporting materials, but further work investigating actual sites with carbon dating methods may shed some light on some of these chapters of "linguistic history". People who moved across Europe over a seven thousand year trek should have left some physical records in campfire and cave relics, which may correlate with the words they carried in their trans-European journey.

There is probably no part of the linguistic field which has more popualr interest than Etymology, which to the Greek coiners of the term means "true (derivation of) wording", and corresponds exactly to our notion of Etymology. But etymology in the Greco- Roman world was likely to be drawn into the realm of the fanciful, at time toward the fantastic, and does not suit our notion of "linguistic truth" except in the most basic derivations. For example, Plato explains the word "methuein" which means 'to be drunk', from the phrase "meta to thuein", which is literally 'after the sacrifice'. The idea was that after a sacrifice the sacrificial wine was consumed, leading to drunkedness.If a student came to me with such a derivation I would call it outlandish; for the redoubtable Plato I find it embarrassing.

But ancient etymologies run this route, and until the "scientific" linguistic studies of the l9th century etymology is at times amusing but never informative. I had for years a grand 17th c. folio volume of Vossius' "Etymologicon Linguae Latinae", which derived all Latin words from the Greek, and all of these ultimately to the Hebrew. The astonishing thing is that Voss was a good language scholar and knew more Greek and Hebrew than most experts of our time. But he assembled his information according to a peculiar theological pattern, which rendered his pages of text strewed with columns of learned footnotes absolutely meaningless.

But by now we have a serious study of the history of words, and you can find in the German text of Walde Pokorny 3 ed. incredibly detailed accounts of every Indo European word known to linguists, with all the abbreviated references to the vast learned literature. Or for Latin Walde-Hoffman has pages of small print in German documenting every opinion, right or wrong, for the IE connections of any Latin word. More readable in French is Boisacq's Dictionaire Etymologique de la language Grecque, but less up to date. However these are works for the advanced linguistic specialist, and when you look for a derivation in a modern unabridged dictionary, you find bare bones and very little enlightening argument. The American Sanskrit scholar W D Whitney wrote the etymologies in the huge six volume Century Dictionary of l901, which I still find the best account around, but there are semi-popular sources which you can generally trust since they generally use good source materials. Then there are the specialist dictionaries which trace Anglo-Indian words imported into English under the British Empire, and Lokotsch's dictionary of non- IE words in IE languages, borrowed everywhere from Chinese to Arabic and Urdu. But the search for the "true meaning" of a word continues to fascinate us all, a worthy search if you pursue it with some good grains of salt.

In a somewhat thinly drawn parallel to the newly arrived carbon-half-life dating which was in the air by l960, Lees at Chicago proposed dating of linguistic samples by the rate of morpheme-deterioration which they showed. The idea was if the functional units of form, the morphemes, were proved to be replaced at a given rate, it might be possible to date the origin of the Indo-European migration of our the Middle East by the rate of morpheme losses and conversions. A very rough date of the older scholars for the IE origin was placed at about 10,000 B.C. and the same date was arrived at by the Rule of Morpheme- Disintegration. But since both dates were very roughly calculated, and neither could be scientifically proved, the matter would seem to rest in limbo. Other have followed this line of research with some considerable refinements, but this new line of study has not expanded far beyond the work of its own practitioners.

Phonetics and the exact study of sound has benefited tremendously from the development of the Sound Spectrograph during WW II. The days of the old Kymograph with its unsound ideas and electronics were replaced by a modern, exact recording machine which traced on paper rolls activity in a serious of bands representing segments of a sound's ascending pitches. For human speech this was a rough approximation, and far too hard to read for use with the deaf, as Bell laboratories engineers had originally planned. Yet this was a great step from the l939 "Speech Synthesizer" which was demonstrated at the NY Worlds' Fair on a machine which looked like a reworked Hammond organ with keyboard inputs, and sounded less convincing than an intelligent gorilla in a peeve. By now we have integrated the knowledge getable from the Sound Spectrograph into the new world of computer electronics, leading to the advanced voice-recognition which Ray Kurzweil was pioneering in l980. Who would have dreamed half a century ago that you can talk to your computer now and even be understood?

Now are these new high technology tools entirely without impact on education, although there is still much Luddite resistance to the new in the venerable Halls of Academe. For many years CALICO at Duke University has been moving forward with research and practice uses for Computer Aided Learning in the languages, with research projects, annual conferences and a growing number of active practitioning language teachers. For this work one must be a skilled teacher, a good solid Linguist, and well versed in computer design and computer potentials. Considering our ubiquitous fascination for computers, which suits many situations but may not fit all of them equally well, we can assume that Computer Aided Language learning will cut a wider swathe in the increasingly cost-conscious academic field. But as with all fast-evolving technology, today's striking successes may well be the burden of old ideas on tomorrow's shoulders. Witness the general enthusiasm for the taped "Language Lab" in l960 as the master-tool for language teaching, a hope which evaporated within a couple of decades.

The Center for Educational Technology at Middlebury College, which focuses on linguistic know-how and language teaching, is a good example of what can be done with imagination, serious funding, and a sense of the future. By going down to the bedrock of cognitive theory, the CET may avoid some of the superficial applications of theory to practice which can cloud the vision of new work. The people at CET seem to be aware of the dangers along with the possibilities.

Beyond the horizon in the realm of speculation about what Language really is, how it evolved and what it's limitations may turn out to be, is the terra ignota in which new activity is again searching for the ultimate information, the final answer. One of the problems may be that our human use of language is finally the barrier on which we trip, while trying to get into the next chamber of the brain, the neural pathways and specialized receptors which make possible our hearing, deciphering, generating sounds and using them symbolically for language communication. Using a tool to define that tool is always a suspect operation and Linguistics may have to deal with that problem currently.

There is much input of valuable information from people who have for decades been working with animal intelligence, especially on the threshold of the use of language of some sort. The chimpanzee's ability to recognize when well taught, some hundreds of acoustic signals, and even to reply with signing in some instances, tells us far more about Language than we are now prepared to really understand. It is of interest that chimps can learn hand signing effectively, and some have suspected that signing is for humans as old or even older than the phonetic functions of language. There is clear evidence from entomologists that communication is a significant part of the life of the insect world. If the dance of the honey bee imparts exact information, it functions as language even though it has no acoustic components which we can recognize at this time.

Most striking is the work which has been going on for decades now, with the highly intelligent dolphins and their two ranges of high-low acoustic signaling. Sound spectrographs have been adjusted to record the entire range of the dolphins' sound spectrum, which we have the data down on paper to examine. But we have not yet been able to figure out what the significant parts are, what sounds are actually "phonematic", and what the dolphins are saying to each other. Their brains are in a range of complexity similar to our brains, so we might well expect a humanoid kind of communication from them. The fact that their talk is incomprehensible to us may say much about the limits which our own mental equipment has imposed upon our social and intellectual use of language qua language.

The Sound Spectrograph has been so heavily used for recording and analyzing the sounds of the cetaceans, that we might miss its use in basic Phonetics and understanding the harmonics innate in the art-language of poetry. I refer you to an essay The Poet and the Spectrograph which opens an unusual door into the esthetics of poetry.

We have been so used to thinking of Language as the sole vehicle for human thought, that we often gloss over the areas where words simply do not fit the bill. Years ago I brought to a college seminar some highly spiced Indic relish which none of the students could have even known. Having them taste it, I asked for a verbal description, and found either total confusion on their part or so wide a spread of expressions as to be useless in definition. Emotions are also very hard to describe beyond a few basic terms, and we have always somewhat glibly said that poetry is the language for expressing what words cannot effectively say. I also note that each time we discover something new, we have to create a new vocabulary for it, whether a biological entity or a computer process, so the expansion of vocabulary proceeds exponentially in decades.

On the other hand the "Basic English" project of the l920's claimed to say anything humanly needed with only 800 available words, and passages of Shakespeare were "translated" into Basic with little loss of meaning (although the art and form were instantly gone). It does seem strange that John Wayne in film and many highschoolers in this time can get along with a bare minimum of verbal entities, yet feel they are communicating with others on an adequate level. To be sure there are other modes of communication available, body language, rhythm of movement in space, and of course the very expressive facial gesturing. But between the 2000 words you need to survive in a modern society, and the 20,000 a college graduate has accessed, and the 75,000 his professors profess to know, beside the million or so in a current dictionary........ there seems to be a wide gap in the numerical count. Are all the terms used in Linnaean identification really necessary, except to a biologist? Is the Latinate description of equisetum in a botanical textbook of the older, pre-fun variety, really enlightening, beside the plant in my hand which I am examining with care before microtoming sections for the microscope? Is the forest richer for having names for the flowers and birds, or is this just a part of our in-built mania for putting a tag on everything, so that we can almost algebraically refer to it without actually touching it with our hands.

Language works with sound, or graphemically with written signs, to put tags on things, so we can use language as a kind of shorthand to catalog the materials of the world, objects and ideas alike. Tagging gives the feeling of understanding something, but can be a cheap way of dealing with multiple data conveniently, often without further thinking. Since the beginning of our history, men have tried to get beyond language, the holy men who vowed silence as a way of emptying the spirit of the inconsequential, the hermit went to the top of the mountain to contemplate life without words. There has always been a contest between the word and the spirit, and although the word usually wins out in our social framework, the spirit remains there beckoning us on uncannily. Perhaps there is something limiting about language which we have not yet learned to estimate accurately, perhaps there is something limiting about the biological and neural part of our mental equipment so we (being word conscious) cannot find the words to express everything.

These things too, must be part of the remarkable discipline which we call Linguistics, because this is on the forefront of our interface with the world as well as with each other.

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris